Creator

M.W. Harrington

Recipient

John Muir

Transcription

Illinlink, Unalashka I, Alaska Terr. Oct 16, 1871.

My Dear Sir

The remembrance of my trip to the Yo Semite will always be fresh with me. I enjoyed myself thoroughly there and my pleasure was much increased by meeting a man so well-informed on its aspects as yourself. I anticipate much pleasure as well as profit from correspondence with you. Although I expected to start for Alaska at once on leaving the Yo Semite, we did not leave San Francisco until the 27th of August. We had a tedious voyage of three or four weeks when we sighted this island. The next day we passed between two of the islands and entered this harbor - Captains Bay.- from Behring Sea. This island is the second or third of the Aleutian Chain in size, and is perhaps the first in importance. As we beat back and fourth down the bay against a head wind, we had we had a good opportunity to see the country, and it was very different from what I had expected. Rising up at once from the water on every side were steep and ragged hills and mountains from 1500 to 3000 ft. in height. Farther in the interior they were higher and the clouds were hanging about their summits. Here and there was a patch of snow, lying in crevices and ravines where the sun could not reach it. On one of our tacks, just ahead of us rose the volcano of Makushin, 6000 ft. high, hemispherical in shape, covered with snow for half the distance down except [in margin: I enclose a couple of characteristic plants, a Cornus (like Canadensis) and Claytonia Unalashkensis.]

where, her and there, a ragged pinnacle of rock thrust itself through. On one side of the volcano could be seen the glistening blue color of a glacier the crevasses and moraines of which could be dimly seen through our glasses. At the same time behind us on another island was the volcano of Akutan, the cone of which was hidden from view, though the smoke rolling out from its crater was plainly visible. Meantime the wind and rain were coming down in heavy squalls.All these things I had anticipated, but now comes a feature which I had not expected in Lat. 53° 51' and in the latter part of September. The hills and mountains were clothed in bright green and even from the schooner's deck at the distance of a mile or two, we could see abundance of flowers. The coat of green covered everything except the summits of the mountains and an occasional precipice too steep for anything to stick to, and around the patches of snow the emerald color was still brighter. but it was the green of grasses and small plants. Not a tree was to be seen. In fact there is not a tree on the Aleutian Is. except 15 or 20 which were planted near her in 1805 as an experiment. This country is evidently in igneous origin. Old volcanic craters and cones are numerous, though there are now less than a dozen active volcanoes in Alaska. The islands are nothing but mountains, jumbled together in almost inextricable confusion though a general trend of about NE by SW can be recognized about her. On climbing one of the higher peaks you see innumerable others all around you with bare, ragged and forbidding summits and between them numerous

mountain lakes emptying by a series of cascades into cheerful valleys which run down to the ocean's edge. The most of the moun- tains are angular in form some of them curiously pyramidal rather than conical and polygonal rather than rounded. The volcanic cones however are at once and easily recognized by their conical shape and rounded and flowing outlines. The materials of the rocks here are partly volcanic such as lavas and scoriae, partly igneous, such as porphyry, basalt, trap dykes, etc., and partly metamorphic. In the latter class are probably the syenites and some of the diorites which I find but rarely and pretty well in the interior and the conglomerate of which we have found one wall perhaps 2000 ft. high and two or three miles long. True granites are said to be found here, but I have seen none. There are also said to be horizontal tertiary beds in some parts of the island, from which fossils have been taken. We took a long tramp to find one of them, a week ago, but could not find it. We found strata of bright colored clays, conformable to the present surface, which might have been tertiary but we could find no fossils and I imagine the beds are of very recent date. These islands must have been elevated comparatively recently. There are no signs of fossil-bearing rocks, except those above mentioned. The force that raised the islands is dying out, but is not entirely dead yet. Several of the volcanoes are yet active. Earthquakes are frequent, though slight. There is now going on a slow elevation of the surface. On Atka I. a harbor formerly very good is now entirely closed by the rise of the land. Near False Pass at the end of the Peninsula of Alaska, an

island formerly well separated from the main island (Unimak) is now connected with it by a neck of land four feet above the water. I have made a little study of the successive beaches of a raised sea passage in this harbor, which illustrates the point very neatly but I haven't room for it here. Besides the elevation of the surface, a continual change is going on in it. Where one author located and made a drawing of a saddle shaped mountain another traveler saw only a un broken ridge, and where was once the summit of a mountain at another time was a valley or the sides of some other mountain. It has not been the slow and gentle action here which Lyell and Hall and others advocate, which has made these mountains. The force has been violent. At first it was rapid as shown by the summits which show little signs of the action of water. It then grew slower and slower as the signs of water action increase as you descend. The force is still at work but is almost dead. Such are some of the hasty conclusions I have drawn in my three weeks stay here. I believe you said to me "Look out for glaciers". I have looked out for them but have not seen a single sign of one since I have been here, except the one on Makuschin, and that is small and imperfect. There are no signs here of extensive glaciers; no scratches in the rocks, no drift, boulders or roches mountomnees, no old moraines. For my part, I do not think there have been more than local glaciers on the Coast. May I have the pleasure of hearing from you soon and often. My address will be San Francisco, Care U.S. Coast Survey. Communication from here with civilization is infrequent and uncertain, but does sometimes occur. With hearty wishes for your welfare I am Yours sincerely M. W. Harrington. 00454

Illinlink, Unalashka I., Alaska Terr.

Oct. 16, 1871.

My dear Sir:

The remembrance of my trip to the Yosemite will always be fresh with me. I enjoyed myself thoroughly there and my pleasure was much increased by meeting a man so well informed on its aspects as yourself. I anticipate much pleasure as well as profit from correspondence with you.
Although I expected to start for Alaska at once on leaving the Yosemite, we did not leave San Francisco until the 27th of August. We had a tedious voyage of three or four weeks when we sighted this island. The next day we passed between two of the islands and entered this harbor -- Captain's Bay - from Behring Sea. This island is the second or third of the Aleutian Chain in size, and is perhaps the first in importance. As we beat back and forth down the bay against a head wind, we had a good opportunity to see the country, and it was very different from what I had expected. Rising up at once from the water on every side were steep and ragged hills and mountains from 1500 to 3000 ft. in height. Farther in the interior they were higher and the clouds were hanging about their summits. Here and there was a patch of snow, lying in crevices and ravines where the sun could not reach it. On one of our tacks, just ahead of us rose the volcano of Makushin, 6000 ft. high, hemispherical in shape, covered with snow for half the distance down except where, here and there, a ragged pinnacle of rock thrust itself through. On one side of the volcano could be seen the glistening blue color of a glacier, the crevasses and moraines of which could be dimly seen through our glasses. At the same time behind us on another island was the volcano of Akutan, the cone of which was hidden from view, though the smoke rolling out from its crater was plainly visible. Meantime the wind and rain were coming down in heavy squalls. All these things I had anticipated, but now comes a feature which I had not expected in Lat. 53° 51 and in the latter part of September. The hills and mountains were clothed in bright green and even from the schooner's deck at the distance of a mile or two, we could see abundance of flowers. The coat of green covered everything except the summits of the mountains and an occasional precipice too steep for anything to stick to, and around the patches of snow the emerald color was still brighter, but it was the green of grasses and small plants. Not a tree was to be seen. In fact there is not a tree on the Aleutian. Is. except 15 or 20 which were planted near here in 1805 as an experiment.
This country is evidently of igneous origin. Old volcanic craters and cones are numerous, though there are now less than a dozen active volcanoes in Alaska. The islands are nothing but mountains, jumbled together in almost inextricable confusion, though a general trend of about NE by SW can be recognized about here. On climbing one of the higher peaks you see innumerable others all around you with bare, ragged and forbidding summits and between them numerous mountain lakes emptying by a series of cascades into cheerful valleys which run down to the ocean's edge. The most of the mountains are angular in form, some of them curiously pyramidal rather than conical and polygonal rather than rounded. The volcanic cones, however, are at once and easily recognized by their conical shape and rounded and flowing outlines.
The materials of the rocks here are partly volcanic such as lavas and scoriae, partly igneous, such as porphyry, basalt, trap dykes, etc., and partly metamorphic. In the latter class are probably the syenites and some of the diorites which I find but rarely and pretty well in the interior and the conglomerate of which we have found one wall perhaps 2000 ft. high and two or three miles long. True granites are said to be found here, but I have seen none. There are also said to be horizontal tertiary beds in some parts of the island, from which fossils have been taken. We took a long tramp to find one of them, a week ago, but could not find it. We found strata of bright-colored clays, conformable to the present surface, which might have been tertiary but we could find no fossils and I imagine the beds are of very recent date.
These Islands must have been elevated comparatively recently. There are no signs of fossil-bearing rocks, except those above mentioned. The force that raised the islands is dying out, but is not entirely dead yet. Several of the volcanoes are yet active. Earthquakes are

291

2

[Letter of M. W. Harrington, to John Muir, dated Oct. 16, 1871, continued]

frequent, though slight. There is now going on a slow elevation of the surface. On Atka I. a harbor formerly very good is now entirely closed by the rise of the land. Near False Pass at the end of the Peninsula of Allaska, an island formerly well separated from the main island (Unimak) is now connected with it by a neck of land four feet above the water. I have made a little study of the successive beaches of a raised sea passage in this harbor, which illustrates the point very neatly, but I haven't room for it here. Besides the elevation of the surface, a continual change is going on in it. Where one author located and made a drawing of a saddle shaped mountain another traveller saw only an unbroken ridge, and where was once the summit of a mountain at another time was a valley or the sides of some other mountain. It has not been the slow and gentle action here which Lyell and Hall and others advocate, which has made these mountains. The force has been violent. At first it was rapid as shown by the summits which show little signs of the action of water. It then grew slower and slower as the signs of water action increase as you descend. The force is still at work but is almost dead. Such are some of the hasty conclusions I have drawn in my three weeks' stay here.
I believe you said to me "Look out for glaciers". I have looked out for them, but have not seen a single sign of one since I have been here, except the one on Makuschin, and that is small and imperfect. There are no signs here of extensive glaciers; no scratches in the rocks, no drift, boulders or roches moutonnées, no old moraines. For my part, I do not think there have been more than local glaciers on the Coast.
May I have the pleasure of hearing from you soon and often. My address will be San Francisco, Care U.S.Coast Survey. Communication from here with civilization is infrequent and uncertain, but does sometimes occur.
With hearty wishes for your welfare, I am,

Tours sincerely,

M. W. Harrington.

I enclose a couple of characteristic plants, a Cornus (like Canadensis) and Claytonia Unalashkensis.

[Envelope inscribed as follows, in Muir's handwriting,"Prof. M. W. Harrington,of Ann Arbor University, on gl[acier]s."]

291

Location

Illinlink, Unalashka I., Alaska

Date Original

1871 Oct 16

Source

Original letter dimensions: 27 x 42.5 cm.

Resource Identifier

muir02_0557-let.tif

File Identifier

Reel 02, Image 0557

Copyright Statement

Some letters written to John Muir may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Owning Institution

University of the Pacific Library Holt-Atherton Special Collections. Please contact this institution directly to obtain copies of the images or permission to publish or use them beyond educational purposes.

Pages

6 pages

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